The Cup of Tea

Reel, E Dorian / D, Traditional Irish
Also known as The Unfortunate Cup of Tea

The Cup of Tea; Traditional Irish Reel. TrailJams Tune of the Week. Play it together March 20, 2022.
Illustration copyright 2022 Jonathan Lay.

The Cup of Tea is a three-part reel that first teases you by starting with the somber sound of a minor key, then promptly brightens up. It’s a bit like taking a sip of good black tea, and then adding a little sweetness for the next sip. The first (A) part of the tune begins in E minor (or E Dorian), and that is why this tune is often identified as being in E minor or E Dorian. But the A part resolves to D major. The next two parts (B and C) are in D major, and the tune resolves to D major – so, ultimately it is a D major tune.


Dots (Music Notation)

As always for traditional tunes, the musical notation and chords do not indicate the “right” way to play the tune, but are a useful reference.

Sheet music and chords for The Cup of Tea, Reel, D Major, Traditional Irish. Arrangement: Jonathan Lay 3/8/2022.
Play from the Dots
Slow tempo 65bpm
Moderate tempo 85bpm


Examples of sets that include this tune.

  • The Cup of Tea / Ships are Sailing / The Star of Munster
  • Cooley’s Reel / The Cup of Tea / The Wise Maid

References and Resources

For those who want to dig deeper, here are some other resources.